Government spin and censorship
We’ve alluded several times on our blog to the fact that we take heat for what we do. We are outspoken, critical of government, and skeptical about much of the Government propaganda related to impaired driving. What we haven’t told you has been the extent to which we have had to defend our positions.
This particular initiative couldn’t be directly connected to the reduction in deaths, and there was insufficient data to make the calls necessary to conclude that drunk driving deaths were reduced by the IRP program.
In February 2013, the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles made a complaint concerning criticisms I posted on our blog about the Government spin on the Immediate Roadside Prohibition law.
Lawyers receive complaints; it’s not a regular occurrence but it’s also not that unusual. This complaint was unlike others in that it was an attempt of a Government office to stifle freedom of expression. They wanted to shut me up.
The subject of the complaint was a blog post in which I had criticised the Government spin machine for suggesting that the IRP scheme had saved lives. In press releases and public statements the Government claimed a direct provable connection between the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme and a reduction of drunk-driving deaths on BC roads.
In our view the Government’s spin was hogwash. I explained numerous other explanations for the reduction in impaired driving deaths, and why it could not be linked to IRPs. I explained why the data would not support their conclusion. I explained that the only likely connection, if any, was the increased publicity and public awareness about the drunk driving laws. Interestingly, my office really kept the IRP scheme in the public eye because we kept going to the press with the horror stories of police and government incompetence. In other words, by keeping the IRP scheme a regular topic on TV news stations, we likely contributed to greater public awareness.
I even challenged the Government to a public debate.
They didn’t like any of this.
Of course they didn’t. We explained the truth – this particular initiative couldn’t be directly connected to the reduction in deaths, and there was insufficient data to make the calls necessary to conclude that drunk driving deaths were reduced by the IRP program in itself, or in conjunction with many other factors.
Most importantly, if you were stopped at a roadblock either before or after the IRP scheme came into place, and you blew a Fail, you weren’t driving further and so you were no longer a threat to anyone on the road.
The same tool was being used to screen drunk drivers. End of debate.
Freedom of speech under fire
If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we aren’t the type of lawyers to back down, particularly when it comes to legal rights. I didn’t back down. I pulled out all of the resources I had relied on originally to support my position, including academic literature from around the world, and prepared a detailed response to the complaint. My response letter spanned some 36 pages (thanks in part to my crack legal team) and the material in support of my position filled a file box.
I sent off my response and not long afterward the complaint was abandoned.
The Government never backed down from their spin that IRPs saved lives. As recently as May, 2015 the Government lawyers were at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles touting statistics that they said indicated there had been a reduction in impaired-driving deaths as a direct result of the IRP scheme.
This was interesting, because in January, 2015 ICBC’s Corporate Acturial and Advanced Analytics department wrote a draft report entitled ‘Report on British Columbia’s 2010 Impaired Driving Initiative (IDI).’ Yes, the same IRP scheme the Superintendent was telling the Supreme Court of Canada had saved all those lives – they had the accumulated evidence in their possession.
Except the Government’s own Report doesn’t support their spin.
Draft report swept under the rug
In the Report, ICBC acknowledges that they simply could not conduct an overall evaluation of the impact that the IRP scheme had because of limitations in the data. Or, what we were saying all along. The collision data collected by ICBC and the police was constrained by a lack of resources and a lack of proper accounting for causes of collisions. As I have said all along.
There is no control sample available, because the IRP scheme was in effect all across BC. And there is nowhere else in the world that is sufficiently similar to BC to compare as a control group.
Actually, there is a control from November 2011 to June 2012, while IRPs were suspended for being unconstitutional. Guess what? Deaths and injuries still declined in this time period.
This was precisely what I said all along.
The review commented that there were few sources of data available concerning changes in behaviour, which makes it almost impossible to make a connection between IRPs and a decline in deaths. Moreover, the differences across the province were not observed consistently. Places with greater enforcement of traffic safety laws saw greater declines than those without.
Which goes back to what we’ve been saying all along: public awareness and enforcement are key to reducing deaths, regardless of the penalty. But, unsurprisingly, there isn’t much in the way of good data from which enforcement can be analysed and no one in the Government is keen to recognize that we’re responsible for a huge amount of the public awareness.
A top secret report
The Report was a draft report dated January 2015. What that means is that it was available, and the data was available, for the Government to provide to the Supreme Court of Canada for the hearing about the legality of the IRP scheme in May 2015.
They had it. It was relevant. It directly contradicted a substantial part of the evidence they presented. They instructed their lawyers to tell the Supreme Court of Canada something entirely different. At the same time they refused to disclose the draft report and kept it hidden until just the last few weeks.
On the front of the draft report it says:
Confidentiality Warning: The information in this document is intended for internal ICBC use only. It may contain information that is privileged and confidential. If this document has been sent to you in error, then take notice that any use, dissemination, distribution or copying of its contents is strictly prohibited. If you have received this document in error, please contact…
You can read the report here: ‘Report on British Columbia’s 2010 Impaired Driving Initiative (IDI)’
Why on earth would this be confidential? Why would a report on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a government policy which has been prepared for a government organization be kept from the citizens? The citizens have a right to know. Why or even how would the government ever think that this should be confidential?
It embarrasses the Government.
If it embarrasses the BC Government, you know damn well that they’ll spend your tax dollars trying to hide it from public eyes. For them the ends justify the means.
They kept it confidential to hide the truth from the public and ultimately the court. It appears that they stopped the process before the final report was prepared because they knew it was a bombshell.
Moreover, the report confirms what I said in the impugned blog posts. Long before they made this complaint about me, they appear to have had the data and the information to know that I was correct.
That’s hitting below the belt. And I suppose we’re not that surprised.
How dare they keep this from the court! How dare they keep this from the citizens of BC! How dare they keep this from me while claiming and complaining that I’m the one being misleading with my, in fact, accurate blog posts!
Dirty dirty dirty.
It appears we have a serious data collection and disclosure problem in BC. It makes one wonder whether the reasons data is not being collected is purely political. After all, we have a Government that triple deletes emails and that took a year to produce this document in response to a request with a 30-day time limit.
Reading this Report tells me a few things. Firstly, that the Government was wrong and apparently knew it was wrong to have complained about these blog posts. Secondly, that the Government was wrong to have represented to the Court that the IRP law has saved lives when it knew that connection could not be made.
And finally, this Report tells me that we have been right all along. The IRP scheme cannot be credited for saving lives.
We know, however, that it’s ruined a lot of lives and taken some lives.
Don’t believe the Government spin. They tried to silence me. They can’t silence the truth.